Famous Irish People Who Made History in Their Lifetime


Updated On: March 10, 2024 by   ConnollyCoveConnollyCove

What do an American president, an Oscar nominee, the first person to split the nucleus of an atom, and a rebel have in common? They are all famous Irish people who have made different breakthroughs in various fields.

The life stories of famous Irish people are intriguing because they left a legacy that will make people remember them for a long time. The works of famous Irish people have been spread around different parts of the world, and some of them made it to the top while still honouring and embracing their Irish heritage. 

Famous irish People
Many famous Irish People have made their mark worldwide.

This article will cover our top pick of inspirational, famous Irish people you should know about! We have broken down our list of notable Irish people into segments based on what they’re known for. Simply scroll down to read through the blog, or click on one of the headings below to jump to a specific section!

Famous Irish People Throughout History

Michael Collins

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Famous Irish People | Revolutionary Hero Michael Collins, Michael Collins House.

If you’re looking for famous Irish people from history, one name will be included in any list: Michael Collins. Collins was an Irish Revolutionary and a leading figure in gaining our independence.

Michael Collins was born in 1890 in Sam’s Cross, near Clonakilty, County Cork, Ireland. At the age of 15, he left Ireland to work in London as a clerk in the post office. While in London, Collins joined the IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood) and the Irish Volunteers.

Collins then returned to Ireland in 1916, where he fought in the GPO alongside Joseph Plunkett. Following Easter Rising, Collins was sent to a camp in Wales.

He was released in the first batch of prisoners in 1916 as he was not yet a well-known rebel. A couple of years after, he was elected to the first Dáil as a member of Sinn Féin, and he led a violent campaign against anything that represented British authority in Ireland – primarily the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and the Army. This put him at war with the British.

As head of the IRB and as minister of finance ( an executive in charge of money) in the Republican government, Collins successfully raised and handed out large sums of money on behalf of the rebel cause. The British could not capture Collins or stop his work despite constant efforts.

Famous Irish People | The GPO in Dublin, Ireland

The “Big Fellow” became an idolized and near-legendary figure in Ireland, and he earned a reputation in Britain and abroad for his ruthlessness, resourcefulness, and daring personality.

In late June 1922, after the population had supported the settlement in an election, Collins agreed to use force against the opposition. This action sparked a civil war, a bitter conflict in which the forces of the newly formed Irish Free State eventually overcame the extreme Republicans in May 1923.

After signing the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921, Collins famously said, “I have signed my death warrant”. While he had achieved independence for 26 counties in Ireland, he knew his decision would not be favourable.

However, he believed that it was the only way to stop the violence and death.

Collins was killed in an ambush in West Cork on 22 August 1922. He was only 31 years old. In his short life, he had helped negotiate a peace treaty recognising the Republic of Ireland as the Irish Free State.

To this day, no one is entirely sure what happened or who killed him. No one else was killed in the ambush. Collins’s body lay in state in Dublin for three days, and thousands paid their respects. Thousands of people lined the streets for his funeral procession.

You can learn more about Michael Collins and even tour his house at the Michael Collins Museum in Clonakilty, in County Cork.

Liam Neeson (who may or may not feature further down this list) starred as Michael Collins in the 1996 critically acclaimed film of the same name. It was the highest-grossing film ever in Ireland upon its release.

Joseph Plunkett

Famous Irish People | A video providing a fascinating insight into Plunkett’s life.

Born on 21 November 1887 in Dublin City, Joseph Mary Plunkett was the eldest son of seven children. Plunkett suffered from Tuberculosis from a young age, but this did not cause his education to suffer. He was a keen scholar, published poet, and well-travelled man.

Plunkett was a crucial figure in the 1916 Easter Rising. He was the director of military operations of the IRB and principal author of the Ireland Report, which set out the basic army strategy for the Rising.

Plunkett was plagued by ill health during the week of the 1916 Rising after undergoing major surgery at the beginning of April. Nevertheless, he was in the GPO for Easter week. After the surrender, Plunket was executed by firing squad. Hours before his death, Plunkett married his fiancé Grace Gifford, an illustrator and sister-in-law of Thomas McDonagh, a long-time close friend.

The service took place in the chapel of Kilmainham Gaol on the evening before his death; the couple was only allowed 10 minutes together in Plunkett’s cell. You can find out more about his life here.

One of the most beloved songs in Ireland, ‘Grace‘, was written by Frank and Sea O’Meara in 1985. It tells the story of the marriage of Grace Gifford and Joseph Mary Plunkett and is performed by Jim McCann from the Dubliners.

It is a melancholy love song that reminds people of the sacrifices made and the human aspect of the 1916 Rising. Many Irish artists have covered the music throughout the years. Danny O’Reilly of the Coronas performs the version below, with his sister Róisin O’Reilly and their cousin Aoife Scott on the Centenary of the Easter Rising.

Famous Irish People | Grace is a song about the marriage of Grace Gifford and Joseph Mary Plunkett.

Daniel O’Connell

Daniel O’Connell, known as “the Liberator,” was born on 6 August 1775 near Cahirciveen in County Kerry. He was educated in France because, as a Roman Catholic, he could not go to University in Britain.

O’Connell returned to Ireland, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in Dublin in 1798. He built up a highly successful practice as a lawyer and dealt with many cases of Irish tenants against English landlords.

In 1794, O’Connell enrolled in Lincoln’s Inn, London and two years later transferred to the King’s Inn, Dublin. While in London, O’Connell became vehemently interested in politics. He read plenty of books from different movement authors and was influenced by radical ideas such as Tom Paine, Jeremy Bentham, and William Godwin.

By the time he qualified as a lawyer in 1798, O’Connell was fully committed to religious tolerance, freedom of conscience, democracy and the separation of Church and State.

On 11 July 1846, O’Connell presented his “Peace Resolutions”, demanding the absolute renunciation of the use of physical force in pursuit of national aims by all members of his Loyal National Repeal Association.

The Young Ireland faction, a group of the younger generation’s most dynamic and influential Repealers, were unwilling to accept this principle unconditionally. As a result, under immense pressure from O’Connell and his supporters, Young Ireland walked out of Conciliation Hall on 28 July. It broke its ties with the O’Connell-led Repeal Association for good.

Famous Irish People | An excellent video detailing Early 1800s Ireland and why O’Connell’s legacy is so important

At that moment, the unity that the Irish National Movement had enjoyed for years under Daniel O’Connell’s leadership was broken, and the physical force of nationalism came to compete with the constitutional methods he had championed for so long.

In 1845, the famine struck Ireland, and the Young Ireland members of O’Connell’s party began to advocate the revolutionary doctrines he had always opposed. Their arguments favouring violent opposition to British rule led to an open split in Irish ranks in 1846.

O’Connell was distressed by this disaffection among the Irish. Although suffering from ill health, he set off for Rome in January 1847 but died in Genoa on 15 May of the same year.

Named in honour of Daniel O’Connell in 1924, O’Connell Street features a statue of the Liberator at the lower end of the street. It is located beside O’Connell Bridge, Dublin’s iconic spire and the GPO, one of the most significant locations in the 1916 Rising.

Why not take our virtual tour of the street while you’re here?

Famous Irish People | O’Connell Street in Dublin

Richard Martin

Colonel Richard “Humanity Dick” Martin was born on 15 January 1754 in Ballynahinch, County Galway. He is one of history’s most well-known and famous Irish people. He was an Irish politician and animal rights activist.

Martin was born the only son of Robert Martin Fitz Anthony of Birchall, County Galway, and Bridget Barnwell, a daughter of Baron Trimlestown. Martin was raised at Dangan House on the Corrib River, four miles upriver from Galway.

After passing his exams, he studied at Harrow and gained admission at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was admitted as a gentleman-commoner at Trinity on 4 March 1773. Martin did not graduate with a degree but studied for admission to the bar and was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn on 1 February 1776.

He served as a lawyer in Ireland and became High Sheriff of Galway in 1782.

Famous Irish People | Martin lived in Galway, Ireland

His father wanted him to become a member of parliament. So, Martin focused his efforts on pleasing his father. Subsequently, he was elected to represent County Galway in Parliament in 1800. He was very popular with people in Galway; he was well known as a duellist and witty speaker in the Houses of Parliament.

He also campaigned for Catholic Emancipation.

After the election of 1826, Martin was deprived of his parliamentary seat because of a petition which accused him of illegal intimidation during the election. He had to flee into hasty exile to Boulogne, France, because he could no longer enjoy parliamentary immunity to arrest for debt.

He died there peacefully in the presence of his second wife and their three daughters on 6 January 1834.

Martin is best remembered for his work to outlaw cruelty to animals. He earned the nickname “Humanity Dick” because of his compassion for the plight of animals at that time. You can learn more about his fascinating life by reading Shevawn Lynann’s 1989 biography Humanity Dick Martin “King of Connemara.”

Charles Stewart Parnell

Famous Irish People | A video describing the legacy of Charles Stewart Parnell.

Next on our list of famous Irish people that you should know is Irish politician Charles Stewart Parnell. Parnell was born in County Wicklow on 27 June 1846. He was an Irish nationalist politician who led the fight for Irish Home Rule during the 1880s.

Parnell studied at Cambridge University, and in 1875, he was elected to parliament as a member of the Home Rule League. Parnell was gaining a lot of influence during that time by balancing constitutional, radical, and economic issues.

He became an active voice when it came to Irish land laws. He believed their reform would be a good step toward achieving home rule.

Charles Stewart Parnell was then elected as the president of the National Land League in 1879. After his election, he travelled to America to get funds and support for land reform back in Ireland. In the 1880 election, Parnell supported Liberal leader Willaim Gladstone.

But when Gladstone’s Land Act of 1881 didn’t meet up to expectations, Parnell sided with the opposition. This then led him to become the leader of the Irish nationalist movement. He encouraged people to boycott to influence landlords and land agents during his leadership.

Famous Irish People Wicklow
Famous Irish People | Charles Stewart Parnell was born in County Wicklow.

However, he was sent to jail for this, and the Land League was overpowered. While serving at Kilmainham prison, Parnell called for Irish peasants to stop paying rent.

1886, Parnell joined forces with the Liberals to help defeat Lord Salisbury’s Conservative government. William Gladstone became the prime minister and created the first Irish Home Rule Bill. At the time, Parnell thought there were flaws in his bill but still agreed to vote for it.

The bill divided the Liberal party and wasn’t accepted in the House of Commons. The new government with Gladstone started falling apart not long after this.

In 1887, The Times published a letter allegedly containing Charles Parnell’s signature that executed murders in Phoenix Park. However, proof showed that the letter and his signature were forged. This turned Parnell into a hero in the eyes of English liberals.

He was given a standing ovation in the House of Commons. This was a massive highlight in his career.

Countess Markievicz

Born to a wealthy family in Lissadell Co. Sligo in 1868, Constance Markievicz is one of the most famous Irish people to make history. She is known for her active role in the 1916 Easter Rising and the struggle for freedom afterwards. Countess Markievicz used her wealth and privilege to fight for freedom for all.

Famous Irish People | “One thing that she had in abundance – physical courage” Sean O’Casey on Countess Markievicz

After a happy and unremarkable childhood, Constance moved to London with her parents’ expectations that she would find a potential husband. Constance defied society’s expectations of her. Instead of focusing on finding a husband, she instead persuaded her father to rent her a studio apartment so she could attend Slade School of Art.

She then moved to Paris to further her education, where she would meet her future husband, Casimir Dunin-Markievicz. Their only child, Maeve Allys, was born in Lissadell in 1901.

It seemed like a life of painting and pleasure was in store for the Countess, but she decided to become involved in politics. She established and ran a soup kitchen to help the poorest people in the city. Constance was inspired by James Connolly, who actively worked with her at a time when women were not allowed or expected to work after marriage.

Constance became a commissioned officer in the Irish Citizen Army and was involved in planning the 1916 Rising. She was initially sentenced to death after the surrender, but because she was a woman, her sentence was changed to life imprisonment.

Constance Markievicz was the first woman elected to the Westminster Parliament in London, but refused to take her seat. She was also the first woman to be elected to and serve in Dáil Eireann. She served with distinction as the first female minister in a modern democracy, having been appointed in 1919.

On 16 May 1926, Countess Markievicz found Fianna Fáil alongside Eamon de Valera, Seán Lemass, Gerry Boland and Frank Aiken. Three hundred thousand people attended Countess Markievicz’s funeral in 1927, marking their respects for someone who had gone against societal standards to fight for change in Ireland.

Kathleen Lynn

Famous Irish People | Kathleen Lynn – The Rebel Doctor

Kathleen Lynn is a woman who has often been overlooked on lists of history’s most famous Irish people. She was an activist, political and medical professional, and her work in these areas has been hugely beneficial. She helped shape the events of a difficult period in Ireland.

Kathleen Lynn graduated as a doctor from the Royal University of Ireland in 1899, becoming an active suffragette and labour activist. She later joined the Irish Citizen Army and was a chief medical officer during the 1916 Easter Rising.

Her role during the Easter Rising put her and many other Prominent figures in Kilmainham Gaol. When Lynn was released, she founded a hospital for infants at Saint Ultans after she was affected by the poverty and poor quality of life in Dublin.

This was the only hospital in Ireland that allowed women to work. Due to Lynn’s hard work, tireless dedication, and unwavering commitment, the hospital grew in prestige and popularity. By 1937, it was the primary vaccination centre in Ireland.

The hospital also provided different medical and educational facilities for mothers and children. Through her advocacy and persistence, Kathleen Lynn played an essential role in changing the culture of Ireland and the lives of Irish people for the better.

Famous Irish People in Government

Many famous Irish people in history helped shape our Emerald Isle and the world. In this section, you will find some of the most influential and famous Irish people who served as politicians and presidents.

Douglas Hyde

Famous Irish People | Rare footage of Dr Douglas Hyde

The first President of Ireland, Dr. Douglas Hyde, was inaugurated in 1938. Hyde was born in Castlerea in County Roscommon.

Hyde was a co-founder and first president (1893-1915) of the Gaelic League, which aimed to act as a catalyst for the revival of the Irish language. Today, the Roscommon GAA team plays in Dr Hyde Park Stadium, named after the president.

Mary Robinson

The first female President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, is an avid UN human rights activist and undeniably one of the most essential and famous Irish people of our time.

Born in Ballina in County Mayo, Mary was a barrister by profession and was appointed a professor of Criminal Law at Trinity College Dublin. Mary and her husband, John, established the Irish Centre for European Law in 1998.

Mary Theresa Wilford Robinson is an Irish independent politician who served as the 7th President of Ireland. She was inaugurated over 40 years ago, back in 1990. She was also the first woman to hold this office.

She has often been highly praised for her time as the president. She is renowned for her dedication to transforming Ireland into a more modern country and revitalising the political office for the better. Robinson left the presidency a few months before her term ended in 1997 to pursue human rights work with the United Nations.

She was selected to become the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Famous Irish People | A Short video detailing some of the many achievements of Mary Robinson

Working for the United Nations, Mary was an important figure who constantly changed people’s perceptions and fought for human rights worldwide. Through her work, she has obtained many awards that recognise her contribution to society and her extraordinary human rights efforts.

Mary McAleese

Mary McAleese is next on our list of famous Irish people in government. Mary was elected in 1997 and was the second female President of Ireland. She served as the 8th President of Ireland and served for two consecutive terms, fourteen years altogether.

Mary trained as a barrister and was a former Professor of Law. Mary was the first Irish president to come from Northern Ireland. She was also an experienced broadcaster and journalist of current affairs, having worked at Radio Telefís Éireann (RTÉ).

The theme of Mary’s presidential campaign was ‘building bridges’, a moving campaign concept that was even more powerful, considering she grew up during ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland.

Famous Irish People | Mary McAleese receives Peace Award.

Michael D. Higgins

Michael D. Higgins is the current President of Ireland and one of the most famous Irish people worldwide. He was elected to office in 2011 as the 9th president and served his second term. He has promoted the revival of the Irish language throughout his political career.

Born in Limerick and raised in Clare, Michael studied at University College Galway, the University of Manchester, and Indiana University in the USA. Before further education, he worked in a factory and as a clerk. Michael Higgins was the first person in his family to obtain a third-level education.

Before his presidency, Michael D. Higgins was a member of Dáil Éireann. Dáil Éireann is the Oireachtas or parliament of the Republic of Ireland. He was also a member of the Seanad Éireann, the Irish Senate, and Ireland’s first Cabinet Minister for Arts, Culture, and the Gaeltacht for nine years.

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Famous Irish People | Irish President Michael D. Higgins

Michael D. Higgins has also served as Lord Mayor of Galway twice and is an honorary professor at the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Michael and his wife, Sabina, are passionate activists and promoters of the arts and literature.

John F. Kennedy

Although American President John F. Kennedy was not born in Ireland, we couldn’t include him on our list of famous Irish people! JFK was the first Irish Catholic president of the United States, a descendant of County Wexford and an icon for the Irish-American community.

Patrick Kennedy, the great-grandfather of JFK, Bobby, and Teddy (his two brothers), left Ireland in 1848 to escape the grinding poverty and make a life for himself in the USA.

Probably the most exciting international trip of Kennedy’s presidency was to Ireland in 1963, where he was greeted by nearly the entire population of the country as a son returning home. He stayed at the Cavendish’s Lismore Castle during his stay.

Famous Irish People | JFK visited Ireland in 1963.

Although JFK immensely enjoyed meeting with the Irish people and politicians, his visit had a side mission: to allow him to track down his relatives in Dunganstown. When he found his family’s farmhouse, so the story goes, he held his hand out and introduced himself as “your cousin John from Massachusetts.”

Kennedy also took time during his visit to Ireland to speak at a ceremony in New Ross, also in Wexford, and pay tribute to his Irish heritage. “When my great-grandfather left here to become a cooper in East Boston, he carried nothing except a strong religious faith and desire for liberty. I am glad that all his grandchildren have valued that inheritance.”

JFK was an inspiration to many Irish immigrants. When the Irish first arrived in the UK and America, they faced hostility and discrimination. The Irish diaspora was met with anti-Irish sentiments such as “no Irish need apply”.

Irish immigrants often entered the workforce at the bottom of the ladder, and it took generations to transcend the ranks of society. JFK was living proof that the American Dream was possible for Irish descendants to achieve until 1963, the year of his assassination. However, his legacy has continued to be a source of inspiration even after his passing.

Famous Irish People | A short biography on John F. Kennedy’s life.

Famous Irish People in Science

John Tyndall

About 150 years ago, a scientist named John Tyndall carried out a series of experiments based on multiple theories of physics and matter that are still fundamental to the field today, making him one of the most famous Irish people in science.

Some of these experiments were related to magnetism and led to his most significant impact in the field: what he described as radiant heat, more widely known nowadays as infrared radiation.

Tyndall knew that the air is made up of many different gases. One of these gases would also have other properties related to radiant heat. After countless experiments, he reached the first scientific explanation for why the sky is blue and, crucially, was the first to realise the greenhouse warming effect of certain gases.

Thanks to Tyndall and his efforts, We know what gases cause global warming. His research paved the way for scientists worldwide to study how to challenge and prevent climate change. Furthermore, many climate change institutions were named after him. His discoveries have made him one of history’s most famous Irish people.

Ernest Walton

Famous Irish People | The Walton Sculpture at Trinity College Dublin.

Next on the list of famous Irish people in science is Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton. Walton is Ireland’s only Nobel Prize-winning scientist.

Walton was born in County Waterford in 1903. From an early age, he excelled in math and science and would go on to win a scholarship to study at the famous Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge in 1927. At Cambridge, the task set to Walton and his research partner, Sir John Cockcroft, was to split the nucleus of an atom using artificially accelerated protons. This feat had never been done before.

Together, the pair set about building a device which could fire particles small enough to break apart the nuclei of atoms. They designed and made what’s today called a Cockcroft-Walton Circuit, which has the power to deliver a massive charge of 7000 kilovolts.

Walton and Cockcroft achieved their breakthrough on 14 April 1932 using this apparatus. They were officially the first to break apart a lithium atom’s nucleus. The experiment showed that a massive energy release could be obtained from a nuclear reaction.

Walton turned down an invitation to work on the US military’s Manhattan Project, partially led by J. Robert Oppenheimer, to build the first nuclear bomb. In 1951, he and Cockcroft were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for their work.

Although he retired in 1974 and moved back to Belfast, Ernest remained closely associated with the physics department at Trinity College Dublin. He often popped in for a cup of tea and a chat with his former colleagues until his passing.

Just before his death, Walton presented the treasured Nobel Prize citation and the medal he had won for his work to split the atom to Trinity. It indicated just how much esteem and affection he had for the institution.

Famous Irish People | Ernest Walton

John Joly

John Joly was an Irish geologist, physicist, engineer, inventor, and lecturer at the University of Dublin. Born in 1857, Joly is one of the most famous Irish people in history, thanks to his development of radiotherapy for cancer treatment.

John Joly studied at Trinity College in Dublin before becoming a geology and mineralogy professor and starting his accolade-laden scientific career. During his research, Joly also developed uranium-thorium dating, a technique used to estimate the age of a geological period more accurately by looking at radioactive elements present in minerals.

In addition to developing immensely impactful radioactive processes, Joly is one of the most famous Irish scientists because of his inventions. John invented the photometer, a device for measuring light frequencies, and the thermometer, a device to measure heat energy.

Joly also invented a type of colour photography called the Joly colour screen. He was a man whose love of sciences is evident in the many fields he excelled in. Further proving his place on our list of famous Irish people, a crater on Mars was named after Joly in his honour in 1973.

Arthur Guinness

The man behind our favourite pint of stout deserves a spot on our list of the most famous Irish people. Arthur Guinness founded the Guinness brewery at St. James’s Gate in 1755. Today, the Guinness storehouse is a trendy tourist destination in Dublin.

Guinness originally founded a brewery in Leixlip, County Kildare, before setting up in Dublin after buying a property that became abundantly available during the financial crisis in the mid-1700s. Initially, the Guinness brand produced ale, but this ceased with the introduction of the porter we know today.

Famous Irish People | Why not take a virtual tour of the Guinness Storehouse with Connolly Cove?

Arthur Guinness was a devout Protestant who supported the movement for Catholic rights, apart from the Irish Rebellion of 1798. He did not discriminate against Catholic people and actively hired them to work in his storehouse, advocating for a fair and equal society.

He and his wife had ten children together, and his son Arthur Guinness II inherited the brewery after his death. Through the Guinness brand, Arthur’s legacy has thrived enough to make him one of, if not the, most famous Irish people in history.

Famous Irish People From the Silver Screen

The actors we see on the big screen are some of the most famous Irish people throughout history. From James Bond to Professor Dumbledore, famous Irish people have played some of our favourite fictional characters.

Liam Neeson

No list of famous Irish people would be complete without Liam Neeson! Neeson is an Irish actor born on 7 June 1952 in Ballymena, County Antrim, Northern Ireland and educated at Saint Patrick’s College, Ballymena Technical College, and Queen’s University Belfast.

He moved to Dublin after university to further his acting career, joining the renowned Abbey Theatre. While living in Dublin, Neeson married fellow actress Natasha Richardson, who tragically died in 2009 in a skiing accident. Neeson currently lives in New York, USA, with their two sons.

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Famous Irish People | Liam Neeson

In his 20s, Neeson was still working on making his mark in Irish regional theatre. By his 30s, he had progressed to playing small parts in TV mini-series. It wasn’t until Neeson was 41 that his Academy Award-nominated role in Schindler’s List (1993) put him firmly on the map. It was then that he felt he had indeed made it in Hollywood.

Other notable movies and TV shows that Neeson has appeared in include:

  • Rob Roy (1995)
  • Michael Collins (1996)
  • Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999)
  • Love Actually (2003)
  • Kinsey (2004)
  • The Simpsons (2005)
  • Batman Begins (2005)
  • The Chronicles of Narnia (2005)
  • Taken (2008)
  • Ponyo (2008)
  • The Clash of the Titans (2010)
  • The A-Team (2010)
  • Taken 2 (2012)
  • The Lego Movie (2014)
  • A Million Ways To Die In The West (2014)
  • Taken 3 (2014)
  • Atlanta (2022)
  • Derry Girls (2022)

Liam Neeson has acted in over 100 movies so far in his career. He has contributed so much to modern cinema and pop culture and will continue for years! With such an impressive list of iconic movies and shows, it’s no wonder that he is one of the most famous Irish people.

Famous Irish People | A video documenting Liam Neeson’s career up until 2012 in four minutes.

Saoirse Ronan

Saoirse Ronan is another one of the most famous Irish people to appear on the silver screen! She was born in the Bronx district of New York but moved to Ireland with her Irish-born parents when she was young.

Ronan has become one of the most successful Irish actors, starring in huge films such as ‘Atonement‘ at only 12 years old! She initially played leading roles in shows such as ‘The Lovely Bones‘ and ‘Hanna‘ as well as a supporting role in ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel

Saoirse Ronan has starred in popular movies such as ‘Brooklyn‘ and ‘Lady Bird‘.

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Famous Irish People | Saoirse Ronan

Ronan’s career skyrocketed further after the release of ‘Brooklyn‘ (2015), a moving and relatable story about an Irish emigrant who arrives in New York, homesick and lonely in the 1950s. Her other significant roles include the lead in ‘Lady Bird‘, the titular character of Greta Gerwig’s film.

Lady Bird‘ is a coming-of-age story about a high school senior preparing for the next chapter of her life.

Saoirse also appears in ‘Loving Vincent‘ as Marguerite Gauchet. It is a revolutionary movie in terms of its animation. ‘Loving Vincent‘ is a biographical drama that revolves around the life and death of Vincent Van Gogh, who painted the instantly recognisable ‘The Starry Night‘.

Each frame in this movie is a hand-painted piece of art done in Van Gogh’s recognisable style. The film is a true gem of modern cinema!

Saoirse also starred alongside Margot Robbie as Mary Stuart in ‘Mary Queen of Scots‘ (2018) and Jo March joining an ensemble cast in Gerwig’s ‘Little Women‘ (2019)

Saoirse is featured in Ed Sheeran’s ‘Galway Girl‘ music video, a fun video that highlights some of the best of Galway! She is also known for appearing in Hozier’s ‘Cherry Wine’ music video, a genuinely moving and emotional performance.

Famous Irish People | The promo for Lady Bird starring Saoirse Ronan.

Saoirse has over 25 movies under her belt. With her only 28 years of age, there is much more to see from this brilliant actress and all-round lovely woman.

Cillian Murphy

Cillian Murphy is next on our list of famous Irish people. The Cork-born actor has one of the most impressive filmographies of any leading actor in Hollywood.

From his early beginnings as the lead singer in his band, ‘The Sons of Mr. Green Genes‘, Murphy transitioned into the world of acting with one of his earlier break-out works: starring as Jim in the British Zombie-horror film ‘28 Days Later‘ (2002).

Cillian Murphy has never shied away from strange or unique roles. He even took on a part starring as Kitten, or Patricia, in the comedy-drama ‘Breakfast on Pluto’ (2005), a film adaption of the novel of the same name, which focuses on a transgender orphan searching for love and her long-lost mother.

That year, the movie earned him a Golden Globe award for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy.

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Famous Irish People | Cillian Murphy

Murphy is a recurring actor in director Christopher Nolan’s cinematic masterpieces. He appears in the ‘Dark Knight‘ Trilogy (2005, 2008, & 2012) as Dr. Johnaton Crane, or Scarecrow as he is more infamously known. Scarecrow is a corrupt psychologist who, instead of trying to cure his patients, harnesses and amplifies their fears using fear toxin, a powerful hallucinogenic.

Other Nolan movies that Cillian has starred in include ‘Inception‘ (2010), a sci-fi action film that can only be described as a dream-heist; ‘Dunkirk‘ (2017), a highly acclaimed WWII drama; and the 2023 film ‘Oppenheimer‘, a drama thriller about the life of American physicist ‎J. Robert Oppenheimer during his time on the United States Military’s Manhattan Project.

Other movies in which Murphy features are ‘Red Eye‘ (2005), ‘The Wind That Shakes The Barley‘ (2006), ‘Sunshine‘ (2007), ‘In Time‘ (2011), and ‘ A Quiet Place Part II‘ (2020).

We could never detail the impressive works of Cillian Murphy without mentioning his role as Tommy Shelby, the protagonist of ‘Peaky Blinders (2013-2022). It is one of Murphy’s most recognisable roles and beloved characters in recent pop culture. ‘Peaky Blinders‘ explores the Shelby family’s life and tribulations in England after the end of World War I.

Peaky Blinders‘ is a crime drama based loosely on a real-life ruthless gang in Birmingham. Still, Murphy portrays his character as a multi-faceted and multi-dimensional person.

Cillian’s Tommy Shelby is not just a gang leader. He is a war hero, his family’s patriarchal figurehead, and an intelligent businessman. Tommy Shelby is a man proud of his Birmingham and Romani roots, yet open to change if it will improve the lives of his family.

Nonetheless, he can also be cold and calculating, vindictive yet kind. Despite his flaws, we, as the audience, root for him. He is much more complex than a broken man or a downright villain.

Famous Irish People | Cillian Murphy’s most iconic roles in his own words.

One quality that we can all admire about Cillian Murphy is his confidence in taking on vastly different roles. He is not afraid to break the mould. Even accepting the role of Tommy Shelby during a time when many actors on the big screen would shy away from TV roles was a bold move.

However, the risk paid off and proved to be the right choice for Murphy, as alongside the arrival of streaming services, the BBC TV series saw a resurgence in its popularity. Shows like Peaky Blinders lead the way for a new era of television.

Although there have been many famous Irish people on the big screen, there is no doubt that Cillian Murphy is one of the best Irish actors of all time. He has numerous awards and accolades to prove it!

Pierce Brosnan

Pierce Brosnan is a multi-award-winning Irish actor and film producer. He made his film debut as Edward O’Grady in the 1979 TV movie ‘Murphy’s Stroke‘. His stellar career in front of and behind the camera places him on our list of famous Irish people.

After his father abandoned his family, Brosnan was raised by his grandparents. He was raised Catholic and served as an altar boy in their local church. After his grandparents passed, Brosnan moved in with his aunt and uncle, who sent him to a boarding house.

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Famous Irish People | Pierce Brosnan at the 77th Annual Academy Awards.

Pierce Brosnan was the first ─ and, so far, only ─ Irish actor to play the role of British secret agent James Bond. He played the classic spy in four films from the 90s until the early 2000s, when Daniel Craig took up the mantle.

Brosnan’s acting range is unquestionable from ‘Golden Eyes‘ to ‘Robinson Crusoe‘ and ‘Mamma Mia!‘. In recognition of his rich and extensive career in front of the camera and behind the scenes as a producer, Brosnan has received the honorary award of European Achievement in World Cinema.

Did you know? Pierce Brosnan was in serious talks about playing James Bond after Roger Moore. He enquired about the role because his contract working on the drama series ‘Remington Steele’ appeared to be over due to the show’s low ratings.

However, the hype around Brosnan becoming 007 led to a significant increase in viewership of the show, which led to it being renewed for another season. As Brosnan was obliged to fulfil his contract, he was no longer eligible for the role of James Bond, and Timothy Dalton took over.

Thankfully, the stars aligned for Brosnan, who still played our favourite British spy. You can learn more about Brosnan’s journey to Bond in the video below:

Famous Irish People | Did you know? The Road to Bond was not as simple as you may think.

The Gleesons

We couldn’t pick just one member of the Gleeson family! Brendan Gleeson is the father of Domhnall and Brian. He has starred in many films, including the ‘Harry Potter series, ‘Michael Collins‘, ‘28 Days Later‘, ‘Caca Milís‘, and ‘Paddington 2‘, to name a few.

Brendan Gleeson married Mary Wheldon in 1982 in Dublin, where they lived and raised their four children. Two of their children, Domhnall and Brian, have followed in their father’s footsteps to become actors.

Domhnall Gleeson starred in the ‘Harry Potter series alongside his father. He has also taken roles in ‘Frank‘, ‘About Time‘, ‘Black Mirror‘, ‘Brooklyn‘, ‘Ex Machina‘, ‘The Revenant‘, and Peter Rabbit‘. Brian Gleeson has been featured in ‘Snow White and The Huntsman‘, ‘Love-Hate‘, and ‘Peaky Blinders‘.

”In addition to their other roles, Domhnall and Brian have gone on to create and star in the sitcom ‘Frank of Ireland, in which their father, Brendan, also features. ‘In addition to their other roles, Domhnall and Brian have gone on to create and star in the ‘Frank of Ireland’ sitcom, which their father, Brendan, also features. ”In addition to their other roles, Domhnall and Brian have gone on to create and star in the sitcom ‘Frank of Ireland, ‘ which their father, Brendan, also features. ‘In addition to their other roles, Domhnall and Brian have gone on to create and star in the sitcom ‘Frank of Ireland, in which their father, Brendan, also features.

Colin Farrell

There are multiple famous Irish people in the Farrell family. Dublin-born Actor Colin Farrell comes from a family of athletes. His father and brother played professionally with Shamrock Rovers, a famous Irish football club.

Before his acting career took off, Colin Farrell auditioned for Boyzone, a well-known Irish boyband with many hit songs, but it didn’t cut. It seems one way or another – be it as a soccer player, singer or actor- Colin was always meant to join his family on the list of famous Irish people!

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Famous Irish People | Colin Farrell

Colin has starred in many films throughout his acting career, such as ‘Alexander‘ (2004), ‘Miami Vice‘ (2006), ‘Horrible Bosses‘ (2011), the sci-fi action movie ‘Total Recall‘ (2012), ‘Saving Mr. Banks‘ (2013), ‘The Lobster‘ (2015), ‘Fantastic Beasts‘ (2016), ‘The Beguiled‘ (2017) and ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer‘ (2019).

Colin has recently starred as notorious Batman villain The Penguin in ‘The Batman‘ (2022). There are rumours that he will continue his iconic character performance in a spin-off HBO series focusing on The Penguin himself.

Michael Fassbender

Michael Fassbender may not have been born in Ireland, but we couldn’t make a list of famous Irish people without him! The Irish-German actor was born in Heidelberg, Germany, and moved to Killarney with his family when he was two.

Fassbender debuted on the silver screen in ‘300’ (2006), an epic historical drama about a battle against the Spartans and the Persians. Other films featuring Fassbender include ‘Hunger’ (2008) and Tarantino’s WWII drama ‘Inglourious Basterds (2009).

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Famous Irish People | Michael Fassbender

Michael Fassbender has also played roles in ‘Shame‘ (2011), ‘12 Years a Slave‘ (2013), ‘Assassin’s Creed‘ (2014), ‘Macbeth‘ (2015), ‘Steve Jobs‘ (2015), and the ‘Alien‘ franchise.

Fassbender is most known as a prominent character in the superhero genre. He has played a younger version of Ian McKellen’s Magneto in 4 movies in the X-Men franchise. He is often seen as one of the constant highlights of a movie saga with many ups and downs.

Daniel Day-Lewis

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Famous Irish People | Daniel Day-Lewis after winning Best Actor for THERE WILL BE BLOOD

Daniel Day-Lewis holds Irish and English citizenship, but we’re focusing on his Irish roots for our list of famous Irish people. He is a 3-time Oscar winner known for his starring role in ‘Lincoln‘ (2012).

Day-Lewis is considered one of the greatest actors ever, partly due to his method of acting approach. Method acting involves fully embracing a role and allowing the role to become your life, not just a job or a state of mind when you are on set.

Day-Lewis researched his roles extensively, from living in ‘The Crucible’ (1996) to building his own house, which had no running water or electricity, in the replica 1600s Massachusetts village used for ‘Lincoln’ (2012). Day-Lewis didn’t break character for months before the last day of filming.

Famous Irish People | The official trailer for Lincoln starring Daniel Day-Lewis.

Day-Lewis retired from acting in 2017. If you haven’t seen his films, some notable ones to check out include ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being‘ (1988), ‘My Left Foot‘ (1989), ‘The Last of the Mohicans‘ (1992), ‘The Boxer‘ (1997) and ‘Gangs of New York‘ (2002).

Richard Harris

Richard Harris was an Irish actor and singer born in Limerick in 1930. Known worldwide for his excellent performances, he is a solid placement on our list of famous Irish People throughout history.

Harris starred as The Bull McCabe in the film adaption of Jim Sheridan’s ‘The Field‘ (1990). It is one of the most famous Irish movies ever, and he received a Golden Globe for Best Actor. He also received a Golden Globe for portraying King Arthur in ‘Camelot‘ (1982).

Harris also made a name for himself as one of film’s most famous Irish people when he starred alongside Gerald Butler and Joaquin Phoenix as Marcus Aurelius in ‘Gladiator‘ (2000).

Harris became one of the most recognisable and famous Irish people with younger generations when he scored the role of Professor Dumbledore in the first two films of the ‘Harry Potter‘ series: ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s (or Sorcerer’s‘, to Americans) Stone‘ (2001), and ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets‘ (2002).

Unfortunately, Harris passed away in 2003. After his death, fellow Irish actor Michael Gambon took over the role for the rest of the film series.

Famous Irish People | Richard Harris on Albus Dumbledore

Maureen O’Hara

Another star on our list of famous Irish people is Maureen O’Hara. Maureen was born in Dublin on 12 August 1920. She was an Irish-American actress and singer famously known for playing fierce and passionate roles, often in westerns and adventure films.

On many occasions during her career, Maureen worked with director John Ford and appeared on screen with her friend and fellow actor John Wayne.

Famous Irish People | Maureen O’Hara singing

Maureen O’Hara was trained in theatre and acting from a very young age. She took lessons at the Rathmines Theatre Company from 10 years old and continued training at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin from 14. While training there, Maureen was offered a screen test for an upcoming film, but it didn’t go well.

However, Charles Laughton saw potential in her and arranged for her to appear in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie ‘Jamaica Inn‘ in 1939. The same year, Maureen moved to Hollywood to pursue her acting career full-time. Her first Hollywood appearance was in a production of ‘The Hunchback of Norte Dame‘.

From then onwards, Maureen continued to get significant roles and obtain success in the film industry. She was often referred to as the “Queen of Technicolour“. Maureen O’Hara is best known for her role in the iconic movie ‘The Quiet Man‘, released in 1952.

Other films that Maureen O’Hara appeared in Included ‘How Green Was My Valley (1941), ‘The Black Swan‘ (1942), and ‘The Spanish Main‘ (1945).

Up and Coming Famous Irish People

We all know the big names in film and television, but the following entries on our list of famous Irish people are worth looking out for in upcoming years! Their careers have just boomed, and they will have much face time on the silver screen.

Famous Irish People | Barry Keoghan

Barry Keoghan

Although he is relatively new to the acting scene, Barry Keoghan is one of the most recognisable and famous Irish people in the new generation of actors. Keoghan has already amassed an impressive filmography, including appearances in ‘Love-Hate‘ (2013), ‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer‘ (2017), ‘Black 47‘ (2018), and HBO‘s miniseries ‘Chernobyl‘ (2019).

Keoghan has also entered into the much-in-demand superhero genre. He took a role starring in ‘The Eternals‘ (2021), a Marvel Cinematic Universe production praised for its visuals and diversity. He also appeared in Matt Reeves ‘The Batman (2022) as one of the most iconic villains of all time: the Joker.

Other critically acclaimed actors such as Jack Nicholson and the late Heath Ledger have been praised for their iconic portrayals of the ‘clown prince of crime‘, so we hope that Keoghan will get to put his spin on the role in a future sequel.

Nicola Coughlan

After starring in the hit series ‘Derry Girls (2018-2022), Galway native Nicola Coughlan has become a household name and one of the most famous Irish people recognised around the globe. The show, produced by Channel 4, has become an instant success with worldwide popularity. It follows a group of teenagers navigating through 1990s Derry in a hilarious and emotionally moving sitcom.

Coughlan appeared in ‘Harlots‘ in 2018 and performed onstage in the West End in ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie‘. In 2020, Nicola appeared in Netflix‘s ‘Bridgerton‘, a period drama set in London in the 1810s based on Julia Quinn’s book series.

We can’t help but feel that the success these two up-and-coming famous Irish people have experienced is only the beginning!

Famous Irish People | Made in Ireland – Nicola Coughlan (Netflix)

Other Famous Irish People in Film and Television

Other notable famous Irish people in film and television include the following:

  • Andrew Scott
  • Sr Kenneth Branagh
  • Tom Vaughan-Lawlor
  • Robert Sheehan
  • Jamie Dornan
  • Jack Gleeson
  • Paul Mescel
  • Evanna Lynch
  • Ruth Negga
  • Fionnula Flanagan
  • Fiona Shaw
  • Brenda Fricker
  • Aiden Gillen
  • Colm Meaney
  • David Kelly
  • Michael Gambon
  • Devon Murray
  • Jonathan Rhys Meyers

We struggled to narrow down our main list of famous Irish people who have found success in Hollywood, let alone our honourable mentions! It shows how much talent is created on our little island!

Have we forgotten other famous Irish people who have graced the silver screen? Let us know in the comments below!

Famous Irish People: Authors, Poets and Playwrights

Oscar Wilde

On 16 October 1854, Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wils Wilde, one of history’s most famous Irish people, was born to a modal family in Ireland. His father was a knighted doctor and philanthropist, and his mother was a renowned poet. As he was growing up in an environment where he was taught many intellectual studies, Wilde became a phenomenal student.

Famous Irish People Oxford
Famous Irish People | Oscar Wilde attended Oxford University.

Oscar Wilde specialized in Greek and Roman studies at university. He landed at the top of his class for a few years and won some scholarships and awards for excellence. He eventually graduated from Oxford in 1878, and in 1881, he released his first poetry collection.

His primary focus for a while after graduating was lecturing. He toured America and Western Europe, talking about asceticism and interior design. During one lecture, he met Constance Lloyd, whom he later married in 1884. They had two sons together.

In 1888, Wilde became editor-in-chief for The Lady’s World magazine because he needed a more grounded income to support his family. However, Wilde was not the type for a desk job. He was let go the following year after repeatedly not showing up for work.

But have no fear; this signalled the start of his writing career. The next few years, he proved to be his most fruitful.

He reached the peak of his fame as a London author and playwright. He wrote many successful novels like ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray‘ and ‘The Importance of Being Earnest‘. In 1891, Wilde was introduced to Sir Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas and, soon after, fell in love with him.

Due to their budding romantic relationship and his outspoken approach towards his homosexuality, Wilde was arrested for incenting debauchery. He was sentenced to two years of hard labour and was forced to sell his home, his furniture, and the rights to his works to pay back his creditors.

By the time he was released, he was exhausted and had little money.

Famous Irish People | Oscar Wilde

The only person who stayed by Wilde’s side was Robbie Ross. He gave Wilde a home after prison, was with him when he died three years later and made sure to keep Wilde’s legacy alive by buying back the rights to all of his work.

Thanks entirely to Ross’ dedication, Wilde’s legacy was kept alive, and now his literary works are taught and loved worldwide.

William Butler Yeats

WB Yeats is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. He belonged to the Protestant Anglo-Irish minority that controlled Ireland’s economic, political, and social life since the end of the 17th century. Yeats maintained his cultural roots, featuring Irish legends and heroes in his poems and plays.

1885 was an important year in Yeats’s early adult life, marking his poetry’s first publication in the Dublin University Review. It was also the year he met John O’Leary, a famous patriot who had returned to Ireland after serving 20 years of imprisonment for nationalistic activities.

O’Leary had a keen enthusiasm for Irish books, music, and ballads. He encouraged young writers to adopt Irish subjects.

Famous Irish People | Liam Neeson reads Easter by WB Yeats.

Yeats was compelled to accompany his family in moving to London in 1886. However, he continued to devote himself to writing Irish subjects with Irish characters. His works varied from Poems to plays and even novels.

The most crucial event in Yeats’ life occurred in 1889: he met the woman who would significantly influence his life and poetry, Maud Gonne. She was Yeats’s first and deepest love. She admired his poetry but rejected his repeated marriage proposals, choosing to marry Major John MacBride instead.

Gonne came to represent the ideal of feminine beauty for Yeats. She appears as Helen of Troy in several of his poems. However, the beauty was disfigured and wasted by what Yeats considered an unsuitable marriage and her involvement in a hopeless political cause, Irish independence.

Famous Irish People | Cillian Murphy reading works by WB Yeats.

Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923 “for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form expresses the spirit of a whole nation”. Ireland had newly become independent then, and he was the first Irish man to be honoured with the coveted prize.

Yeats died on 28 January 1939 73 at the Hôtel Idéal Séjour in Menton, France.

CS Lewis

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Famous Irish People | The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis

Next on our list of famous Irish people you should know is the author of the much-loved Chronicles of Narnia series, CS Lewis. Lewis was born in Belfast in 1898.

Lewis held academic positions at Cambridge University and Oxford University, where he taught alongside fellow author J. R. R. Tolkien. However, CS Lewis is best known for his literary fictional works, including ‘The Screwtape Letters’, ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’, and ‘The Space Trilogy‘.

C.S. Lewis’s legacy is so strong that a park has been named in his honour. CS Lewis Square is in Belfast, Northern Ireland‘s capital and Lewis’ birthplace. The park features iconic characters from the world of Narnia.

The characters memorialised at the park include Aslan the Lion, the White Witch, and Mr Tumnus. Visitors can also follow the famous Chronicles of Narnia Trail!

George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw is next on our list of famous Irish people throughout history. George Shar was the third and youngest child and only son of George Carr Shaw and Lucinda Gurly. He was born on 26 July 1856 at 3 Upper Synge Street in Dublin.

Shaw’s father, a corn merchant, also had alcoholism, so they had very little money to spend on Shaw’s education. Shaw went to local schools but never went to university. He was largely self-taught.

Famous Irish People | Shaw was born in Dublin, Ireland.

Shaw hoped to become a writer. Over the seven years after he left school, he wrote five unsuccessful novels. He also wrote several plays with political themes during this period. Like many socialists, George Bernard Shaw opposed Britain’s involvement in the First World War.

Shaw generated much controversy with his provocative pamphlet, ‘Common Sense About the War’, which appeared on 14 November 1914 as a supplement to the New Statesman.

The pamphlet sold more than 75,000 copies before the end of the year, and as a result, he became a well-known international figure. However, given the patriotic mood of the country, his pamphlet created a great deal of hostility.

Some of his anti-war speeches were banned from the newspapers, and he was expelled from the Dramatists’ Club that he frequented.

Despite his controversies, Shaw’s status as a playwright grew after the war. The critics favourably received his plays, such as ‘Heartbreak House’, ‘Back to Methuselah’, ‘Saint Joan’, ‘The Apple Cart’, and ‘Too True to be Good’. In 1925, Shaw was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Shaws is the only person in history to have been awarded both a Nobel Prize in Literature and an Oscar in 1938, the latter for the film adaptation of his play ‘Pygmalion‘. Pygmalion was adapted into the famous musical film My Fair Lady, which starred Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle.

Famous Irish People | The official trailer for MY FAIR LADY starring Audrey Hepburn.

James Joyce

Another author on our list of famous Irish people you should know is James Joyce, one of the most significant writers in the world. He was born on 2 February 1882 in Dublin, Ireland, and was the oldest of ten siblings. Joyce’s unique writing style helped to revolutionise fiction writing in the early 20th century.

Joyce is regarded as one of the most influential and groundbreaking authors of the 20th century. As an Irish author, Joyce was deeply impacted by his surroundings and Irish upbringing. This is quite evident through the settings and subject matter of his novels.

One of his best pieces of work is thought to be the short story ‘The Dead’. This is found in his ‘Dubliners’ short-story collection published in 1914. ‘The Dead‘ has even been considered a ‘masterpiece of modern fiction’.

Director John Huston then turned the story into a film years later, which was publicly praised.

Every year, on 16 June, Bloomsday is celebrated. Bloomsday is a celebration of the life of the acclaimed writer James Joyce. The significance of 16 June is tied to his novel ‘Ulysses’; it is the story’s date. It is also the anniversary of his first date with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle.

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Famous Irish People | Ulysses by James Joyce

On Bloomsday, People dress up as characters from the book and re-enact scenes. This celebration is still held more than 100 years after the novel’s release. Ulysses tells the story of the eponymous Greek leader, who, after defeating the Trojans in a 10-year war, begins his journey home to his wife and son.

Little does Ulysses know that the journey itself will be another harrowing adventure. Each of the book’s eighteen chapters is written in a different style to the last. In the novel, Joyce combines references to Dublin life, Irish history, and works from Shakespeare, Aristotle and Dante.

Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker is responsible for creating one of the most famous monsters of all time and is undoubtedly one of the most famous Irish people. He is known around the world for being an author of gothic literature. He wrote ‘Dracula‘ in 1987, with the titular character becoming one of the most iconic characters in pop culture and literature.

Abraham Stoker was born in Dublin in 1849. A man of many talents, Bram attended Trinity College in Dublin. He excelled in athletics and his studies and was the auditor and president of the historical society. Stoker also became acquainted with Oscar Wilde at this time.

A theatre fanatic and gifted writer, it is no surprise that Bram worked as a theatre critic. He moved to London and became the business manager of the Lyceum Theatre. There, he worked with Sir Henry Irving, a famous stage actor, who was supposed to inspire Dracula.

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Famous Irish People | First Edition of Dracula by Bram Stoker

This occupation provided Stoker with the opportunity to travel around the world. He even visited US President Theodore Roosevelt in the White House.

Count Dracula has appeared in many iterations, from Hollywood movies and television to book sequels, prequels and almost everything else!

Roddy Doyle

Born in Dublin on 8 May 1958, Roddy Doyle would become one of the best authors in Ireland and one of the most famous Irish people worldwide. Dole attended Trinity College in Dublin and studied to become an English and Geography teacher.

Doyle married Belinda Moller, the granddaughter of Erskine Childers, the fourth president of Ireland. They have 3 children together.

Doyle followed his passion and became a full-time writer in 1993. He wrote the ‘Barrytown Trilogy‘, which comprised of ‘The Commitments’, ‘The Snapper’, and ‘The Van‘. These books would be adapted into much-acclaimed films.

The ‘Barrytown Trilogy novels are just a few of many loved Roddy Doyle’s novels. Others include ‘Paddy Clarke: Ha Ha Ha’, ‘The Woman Who Walked Into Doors’, and ‘A Star Called Henry’. Doyle’s stories evoke many emotions as he explores many genres, from comedy to romance to drama. More often than not, Doyle mixes multiple genres into his novels.

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Famous Irish People | The Commitments by Roddy Doyle

Cecelia Ahern

Cecelia Ahern is a contemporary Irish author whose novels have reached international success. After completing degrees in Journalism and Media Communications, Cecelia started writing her first novels. At just 21 years of age, her debut novel ‘PS, I Love You‘ was released in January 2004, followed by ‘Where Rainbows End‘ (adapted into ‘Love, Rosie‘).

Both novels were adapted into hit films starring Hillary Swank, Gerard Butler, Lily Collins and Sam Clafin. Cecelia has published a novel every year since. Her books have sold over 25 million copies in over 40 countries and 30 languages.

Cecelia enjoys writing about the transitional periods of life, as we often face our most demanding challenges during those times. She enjoys writing about characters struggling in life and their journeys to overcoming their issues and becoming a better version of themselves.

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Famous Irish People | PS, I Love You by Cecelia Ahern

Famous Irish People in Music

Luke Kelly / The Dubliners

Known as a solo artist and founder of The Dubliners, Luke Kelly is an icon in Irish music. Kelly was a balladeer and played the banjo. He was known not only for his distinctive singing style but also for his political engagement and activism.

Other notable members of The Dubliners include Ronnie Drew, Barney MacKenna, Ciarán Bourke, John Sheahan, Bobby Lynch, Jim McCann, Seán Cannon, Eamonn Campbell, Paddy Reilly, and Patsy Watchorn.

Luke’s career was sadly cut short by his death at age 44. Many statues of Luke Kelly can be seen around Dublin City.

Famous Irish People | Raglan Road by Luke Kelly / The Dubliners

Luke Kelly’s hits include: ‘Seven Drunken Nights’, ‘Black Velvet Band’, ‘Raglan Roads’, & ‘The Rare Auld Times’.

Bono / U2

In 1976, aspiring drummer Larry Mullen pinned an ad on the notice board at Mount Temple Comprehensive School in Dublin, looking for people to join a band. He’d just acquired his first drum kit and wanted someone to practice with.

Paul Hewson (Bono), Dave Evans (The Edge), Dik Evans, Ivan McCormick and Adam Clayton joined him. The Larry Mullen Band’s first practice sessions took place in Larry’s kitchen, where it soon became apparent that Bono was the one in charge despite their name.

Their name had changed to ‘The Hype’ before the band eventually settled on U2. They chose that name because they considered it somewhat vague and liked that it could be interpreted differently.

U2 is now considered one of only a few bands that have achieved consistent commercial and critical success over three decades. It has charted success on its terms on the music industry’s artistic and business sides.

Their 2000 record, ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind‘, not only sold a staggering 12 million copies, but it gave the band a renewed relevance in the wake of 9/11 when songs like “Walk On” came to symbolize an America figuring out how to pick up the pieces.

Famous Irish People | With or Without You by U2

Other songs like the anthemic “One” had always found a universal relevance, but this was a reminder of why U2 was so popular: It united the types of people who usually never agree on liking anything.

It’s not difficult to argue that Bono is one of the most famous Irish people in history or that U2 is one of the most famous bands in the music industry.

Bono’s hits include: ‘With or Without You’, ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’, & ‘Beautiful Day’.

Van Morrison

George Ivan “Van” Morrison was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on 31 August 1945. Morrison began listening to song records around age two or three, and when he was 15, he was completely hooked on the idea of becoming a singer, and he dropped out of school to pursue a musical career.

His first full-time effort was with a local band called the Monarchs. The band toured Europe, often playing military bases, but by the time he was 19, Morrison had left the Monarchs behind to open a Belfast R&B club and form a new band called Them.

The band made big sales and even went on tour, but Morrison decided that it was time to depart from the group and go solo.

Van Morrison’s reputation speaks for itself musically and with the multiple honours bestowed upon the Irish singer/songwriter. He’s a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and won numerous Grammy Awards.

In 2016, he received a knighthood from the Prince of Wales at Buckingham Palace for services to the music industry and tourism in Northern Ireland. The artist was introduced as Sir Ivan Morrison as he stepped forward to be dubbed a knight.

Van Morrison’s hits include: ‘Moondance’, ‘Brown Eyed Girl’, and ‘Days Like This’

Famous Irish People | Days Like This by Van Morrison

Dermot Kennedy

Dermot Kennedy is an Irish singer who Van Morrison hugely inspired. He even covered ‘Days Like This‘ on the Late Late Show.

From Busking on the streets of Dublin in his early days to travelling the world and selling out arenas, Dermot’s success can only be attributed to his artistry. Not only a quality vocalist but also a talented musician and superb lyricist, Kennedy’s songs often feel like poetry.

Initially a singer in the Band Shadow and Dust, Dermot gained popularity as a solo artist after his 2017 EP ‘Doves and Ravens‘ was released. His album ‘Without Fear‘ reached #1 on the Irish and UK charts and has been streamed online over 1.5 Billion times.

Dermot was nominated in the ‘Best International Male’ category at the BRIT Awards 2020. The same year, he hosted one of the biggest-selling live-streamed shows, performing with a full band at the Natural History Museum in London.

Dermot Kennedy’s hits include: ‘Power Over Me’, ‘Outnumbered’, & ‘Giants’.

Famous Irish People | Outnumbered by Dermot Kennedy

Dolores O’Riordan / The Cranberries

Dolores O’Riordan was the lead singer of the Cranberries, the famous Limerick alternative rock band with a distinct Celtic element. Dolores’s captivating vocals, alongside a talented group of band members, took the world by storm, and they used their platform to create catchy and socially conscious music.

Originally called ‘The Cranberry Saw Us’, the band comprised brothers Noel and Mike Hogan and drummer Fergal Lawler. Following the departure of their original singer, Niall Quinn, Dolores auditioned for the band, bringing with her lyrics and melodies.

After showing the group a rough version of what would become ‘Linger‘, one of their most famous songs, she was hired on the spot.

Dolores O’Riordan tragically died of an accidental drowning in 2018 at the age of 46. The band had been working on a new album, and using demo vocals of Dolores, they released their final album in 2019, featuring the single ‘All Over Now‘.

Dolores O’Riordan’s hits include: ‘Linger’, ‘Dreams’, ‘Ode to My Family’, & ‘Zombie’.

Famous Irish People | Dreams by The Cranberries

Phil Lynott / Thin Lizzy

The lead singer of Thin Lizzy, Phil Lynott, was one of the first artists to merge poetry and rock music. Born to a Brazilian father and Irish mother, Phil grew up in Ireland in the 1950s and 60s. He overcame the racism and discrimination of that era, emerging as a global rockstar in the 1970s.

Phil was inspired by artists such as Van Morrison as well as Jimi Hendrix

Other band members include Brian Downey, Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson. However, the lineup changed over the years.

Lynott was primarily raised by his grandmother, Sarah, and even named his daughter after her. He wrote songs about both of them, but ‘Sarah‘ about his daughter is the most well-known song he has produced. Lynott also released many poetry books throughout his career.

Phil Lynott sadly died in 1986 at only 36 years old. However, his legacy in Thin Lizzy inspires many artists and musicians worldwide. He was a charismatic and multi-talented Irish artist and is forever immortalised as a legend in rock and roll.

Phil Lynott’s hits include: ‘The Boys are Back in Town’, ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’, ‘Sarah’, & ‘Whiskey in the Jar’.

Famous Irish People | Dancing in the Moonlight by Thin Lizzy


Andrew Hozier-Byrne was born in 1990 in Bray, County Wicklow. A singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Hozier attended Trinity College in Dublin but dropped out after one year to record demos with Universal Music.

Hozier’s career skyrocketed in 2013 when “Take Me To Church“, Hozier’s first EP, became a viral success online, earning him a Grammy Nomination. Both the song and music video for “Take Me To Church” were hailed for their social commentary on how religious organisations, especially the Catholic Church in Ireland, discriminated against members of the LGBT community.

Hozier’s success continued with the release of his eponymous debut album, and he spent the next few years performing. 2018 he released his EP ‘Nina Cried Power’ to critical and commercial acclaim.

His second album ‘Wasteland, Baby!‘ hit number one in the US and Ireland after its release in 2019.

Famous Irish People | Take Me To Church by Hozier

Hozier’s hits include: ‘Take Me To Church’, ‘Someone New’, ‘Cherry Wine’, & ‘Almost’.

Christy Moore

One of Ireland’s best singer-songwriters, Christy Moore, helped revive traditional Irish Music in modern-day Ireland. She is known for mixing elements of rock and pop genres with conventional music. He has been a significant inspiration to artists such as U2 and the Pogues.

Christy Moore was the former lead vocalist of Planxty and Moving Hearts.

Luka Bloom, also known as Barry Moore, is Christy’s brother and another well-known Irish Musician. His incredible discography includes albums such as ‘Ride On‘ (1984), ‘Ordinary Man‘ (1985), and ‘Voyage‘ (1989), as well as countless live albums.

In 2007, Christy was named Ireland’s most incredible living musician and received RTÉ‘s People of the Year Award.

During the COVID pandemic, Christy Moore was further immortalised. He appeared alongside Hozier, Lisa Hannigan and Sinéad O’Connor on a set of unique An Post stamps commemorating their performances at Glastonbury. Some of the proceeds from the stamps were donated to a Music Industry COVID-19 emergency fund.

The four artists performed in the GPO to a virtual audience to celebrate this occasion, which Moore said was one of the most outstanding achievements of his life.

Christy Moore’s hits include: ‘Ride On’, ‘Black is the Colour’, ‘Ordinary Man’, ‘Nancy Spain’, ‘City of Chicago’, ‘Beeswing’, ‘The Contender’, & ‘The Cliffs of Dooneen’.

Famous Irish People | Ordinary Man by Christy Moore

Famous Irish People in Arts

Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon was born in Dublin in 1909 before moving to London in 1915, where his father took a job in the Record Office for the Territorial Force during WWII. The family moved back to Ireland in 1918 but continued travelling between the two locations.

Inspired by Pablo Picasso’s work, which he saw when travelling around Europe, Bacon started painting. Bacon would go on to become one of Ireland’s most revered painters. His signature style was figurative, raw and sometimes seen as unsettling.

Famous Irish People | A tour of Francis Bacon’s Exhibition at Hugh Lane Gallery

Famous Irish People in Sports

Conor McGregor

Famous Irish People | The official trailer for Conor McGregor: Notorious

Conor Anthony McGregor was born on 14 July 1988 in Dublin, Ireland. He is an Irish professional mixed martial artist and boxer. He is probably one of the most recognisable famous Irish people in sports due to his success in mixed martial arts and huge personality.

McGregor joined the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in 2013, known as “The Notorious“. He then unified the featherweight division with his title win in 2015. He became a two-division champion the following year by winning the lightweight title.

In 2017, Conor McGregor made a massive move to boxing. His first was with the world-renowned boxer Floyd Mayweather; Conor famously lost the fight. Although he lost, he still got a huge payout of 100 million pounds, so it all worked well!

McGregor has also delved into entrepreneurship, selling his own Proper 12 Whisky and opening a bar and restaurant, The Black Forge Inn.

George Best

George Best is considered one of the best footballers of all time. Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, he grew up playing football, and at the age of 15, he was spotted by a football scout.

Famous Irish People | George Best’s Top 10 Goals

The scout sent Manchester United Manager Matt Busby a message: “I think I’ve found you a genius.” Only two years after being scouted, George Best debuted for Man United at 17. He also went on to play for Northern Ireland.

The Irish Football Association described Best as “the greatest player to ever put on the green shirt for Northern Ireland.”

In his adult years, Best began to have an alcohol problem, leading to numerous controversies and eventually his death. At the young age of 59, Best passed away in hospital due to lung infections and multiple organ failures.

Despite his alcohol problem, no one can deny how great of a footballer he was. He has inspired so many people all around the world.

On 22 May 2006, which would have been George’s 60th birthday, Belfast City Airport was renamed the George Best Belfast City Airport as a tribute to him and the city he grew up in.

Rory McIlroy

Roy McIlroy was a keen golfer from when he was a toddler. Unsurprisingly, McIlroy’s rise to success was organic; at nine years old, Rory won the under-10 World Championship in Doral, Florida, USA. Rory became the youngest golfer to secure his European Tour card after winning his first European Tour title in the Dubai Desert Classic in 2009.

After winning his fourth Major title in 2014, Rory joined the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the greats in golf. He is one of only 3 to have won 4 Major titles under 25.

In 2020, Rory returned to world number one for the first time since 2015. You can learn all about McIlroy’s career on his official website.

Famous Irish People | Rory McIlroy’s best golf shots.

Roy Keane

Born in 1971 in Cork, Roy Keane is one of Ireland’s greatest soccer players and one of the greatest midfielders of his generation. Keane has won 19 major trophies in his club career, with 17 coming from his time at Manchester United.

Beginning at Cobh Ramblers, Keane was signed by Nottingham Forest and Manchester United before finishing his career with a year at Celtic in 2006.

Keane excelled as a captain for Man United from ’97-’05. He also served as captain most of his career, playing for Ireland internationally.

Known for his fiery personality, Keane had the skill to back controversies, such as being sent home from the 2002 World Cup over a dispute with Mick McCarthy, the Ireland coach.

After his retirement, Keane remained involved in the world of soccer. He managed Sunderland, and the team were promoted from 23rd place in the Football League Championship to the Premier League after winning the division.

Keane was the Republic of Ireland’s international team’s assistant manager from 13-’18. He is also a featured pundit on Sky Sports and Match of the Day. Keane was inducted into the Premier League Hall of Fame in 2021 for all his achievements.

Famous Irish People | Roy Keane’s best skills and goals.

Brian O’Driscoll

Born in 1979 in Dublin, Brian O’Driscoll is a former professional rugby player who captained and played for Leinster, Ireland and the Irish & British Lions over fifteen years.

O’Driscoll has won 1 Six Nations Grand Slam (awarded when the championship-winning team has won all of their games), 2 Six Nations Championships and has scored 46 tries in 133 caps for Ireland.

O’Driscoll has many achievements: a Six Nations record try scorer, the fourth most capped player in rugby union history and Six Nations player of the tournament 2006, 2007, and 2009. He was also voted World Rugby Player of the Decade 2000-2009 by the magazine.

Brian O’Driscoll married Irish Actress Amy Huberman in 2010, and they have 3 children together.

Famous Irish People | Brian O’Driscoll’s Top 10 Tries.

Famous Irish People from the Olympics and Paralympics

Katie Taylor

Famous Irish People | Gold medalist Katie Taylor returning home from the Olympics.

Famous Irish heroes should inspire people to achieve their dreams, work hard to pursue their goals and remember their roots and the people who helped build them up to where they are now. By all definitions, Katie Taylor meets this definition.

Katie Taylor is one of the best female boxers from Ireland and maybe even the best female boxer in the world. Born and raised in Bray, Ireland, Katie started boxing at 11 and was coached by her dad, Peter Taylor.

At 15 years old, she fought her first official female boxing match in Ireland, and of course, she won. She then fought in the Olympics in 2012, where she came home with Gold. Taylor turned professional in 2016 and has gone on to win numerous fights. Katie is currently the unified lightweight female world champion.

In May 2018, she was ranked as the world’s second-best active female lightweight boxer. Katie Taylor has become a fantastic role model for other young girls and boys wanting to get into the boxing sport and represents Ireland well. She is humble, skilled, and determined and undoubtedly one of our greatest exporters!

Barry McGuigan

Famous Irish People | Barry McGuigan at the 1985 WBA Featherweight Title Fight

At 17, Barry McGuigan won the gold medal as an amateur and professional at the 1978 Commonwealth Games, and Barry won the British, European, and World Titles. In 1985, Barry became the featherweight champion of the world, defeating Eusebio Pedroza.

Barry was a symbol of unity at a time of great political, religious and sectarian divide in Ireland, born and raised in Ireland throughout The Troubles. Barry was raised Catholic and married his childhood sweetheart, who was Protestant. His boxing fights brought people together; Danny Boy was often sung by his father Pat before fights.

Barry has worked as a successful boxing commentator and columnist since retirement. He also worked closely with Daniel Day-Lewis to make the movie ‘The Boxer (1997), a Golden Globe nominee and critically acclaimed film. McGuigan trained Day-Lewis in choreographing and editing all of the boxing scenes.

In 2009, McGuigan’s inaugural Barry McGuigan Boxing Academy aimed to encourage young people to continue their pursuit of sport and education.

Jason Smyth

Famous Irish People | Jason Smyth running at the Paralympics.

Jason Smyth is one of the most skilled Paralympians in Irish history, having won six gold Paralympic medals from 2008 to 2020. Jason was born in Derry and has never been defeated in a significant Para-Athletic event since his 2005 European Championship debut in Espoo, Finland.

As the world record holder in both the 100m and 200m events, Smyth’s consistency is unparalleled. Jason competes in the T13 category for athletes with a Visual Impairment, as he is legally blind.

You can learn about Jason Smyth’s achievements and those of other Paralympic athletes on the Paralympic Ireland website.

Sonia O’Sullivan   

During the 90s, Sonia O’Sullivan became one of Ireland’s best athletes and sporting stars, winning many medals in the Olympics, World Championships and European Championships. Sonia inspired many and brought hope back to Ireland after a substantial economic difficulty hit it.

Throughout her sporting career, she racked up eight gold, six silver and two bronze medals at the world’s most important athletic competitions. In 2007, she finally retired from competing in sports but became a sports commentator for RTE.

Famous Irish People | Sonia O’Sullivan’s World Record 200-metre run.

Famous Irish People in the Comedy Scene

Dermot Morgan

Better known as Father Ted to some, Dermot Morgan starred in one of the most iconic Irish TV shows of all time. A sitcom parodying priests and Irish life in general, Father Ted was hilarious and ahead of its time, depicting the priests as morally dubious and often self-serving characters.

Morgan’s career had just skyrocketed with the success of Fr. Ted, and he was in talks to produce more sitcoms due to the critical acclaim of Fr. Ted. The Show won 2 BAFTAs for best comedy in 1996 and 1999, and Morgan won best actor. Morgan and Pauline McLynn won the British Television Award for Best TV Comedy Actor and Actress, respectively, in 1996.

Unfortunately, after filming the last episode of the third and final series of Father Ted, Morgan passed away only a day later from a heart attack at a dinner party; he was only 45 years old. Morgan again won the British Television Award for Best TV Comedy Actor posthumously in 1999.

The President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, and former President Mary Robinson were just two of the many famous Irish people who attended his funeral.

Famous Irish People | The trailer for Father Ted.

Brendan Grace

Entertaining a nation for over 40 years, Brendan Grace passed away in 2019, aged 68, forever remembered as Ireland’s most popular live comedian.

One of Grace’s most popular recurring gags was the character of Botler, the hilarious schoolboy. Grace was also a gifted singer; his version of ‘Combine Harvester’ was a number-one hit in Ireland. In fact, at age 18, he formed a show band called ‘The Gingermen’ and toured Ireland.

Alongside his many live shows that have since been televised, Grace appeared as Fr. Stack alongside Dermot Morgan in an episode of Father Ted. It seemed her comedy favourite, Pat Shortt’s Killinaskully.

Grace battled illness in his final years but continued to tour despite his difficulties. He was survived by his wife, Eileen and his four children. You can read more about his life here.

Famous Irish People | Brendan Grace performing Dublin in the Rare Old Times.

Tommy Tiernan

Born on 16 June 1969 in Donegal, Tommy Tiernan is an Irish Comedian who is in high demand.

Tommy has toured many successful comedy specials as a stand-up comedian, but did you know that in 2009, he set the Guinness World Record for the longest stand-up comedy show by an individual, which lasted 36 hours and 15 minutes?

He also performed his 2000th show in Vicar St. Dublin in 2013, a feat no other performer has yet to achieve.

Hector appeared in Ed Sheeran’s Galway Girl music video alongside fellow podcast host, comedian and former schoolmate Hector Ó Heochagáin, and international superstar Saoirse Ronan.

Recently, Tommy has starred in the hit Channel 4 sitcom ‘Derry Girls as Erin’s Da Gerry and has his weekly podcast ‘The Tommy Hector and Laurita Podcast‘.

Tiernan also hosts ‘The Tommy Tiernan Show‘, a primetime Saturday night show on RTÉ. However, it is no ordinary talk show with a unique twist. Tiernan has no idea who he will interview until they arrive on stage in front of a live audience! It is a fresh concept that guarantees a good laugh and its fair share of heartfelt moments.

Famous Irish People | A popular clip from the Irish sitcom Derry Girls.

Chris O’Dowd

Chris O’Dowd is an Irish actor and Comedian with an impressive career. A Roscommon native, O’Dowd was born in Boyle in 1979.

His most notable role is that of Roy Trenneman in the IT Crowd (2016-2013). O’Dowd has also featured in This is 40 (2012), Monsters vs. Aliens (2013-2014), Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016), Loving Vincent (2017), Molly’s Game (2017), Mary Poppins Returns (2018) and even an episode of the Simpsons.

Another Highlight of O’Dowd’s career is the hit TV series Moone Boy, where O’Dowd portrays the imaginary friend of Martin Moone, a young boy growing up in small-town Ireland in the 1990s. O’Dowd created and co-wrote the show.

Famous Irish People | Chris O’Dowd in the IT Crowd.

There Have Been Many Notably Famous Irish People Throughout History

For a country as small as the Emerald Isle, it is impressive that so many celebrities hail from here! Many famous Irish people aren’t just recognised locally and globally.

From well-known actors to presidents of the United States, political leaders, musicians, and sporting stars, many famous Irish people have existed throughout history. It is no wonder how the Irish have made their mark worldwide.

Have you ever met any famous Irish people? We would love to hear any stories you have of meeting famous Irish people!

Also, don’t forget to check out related blogs that might interest you: Famous Irish Authors who Helped Promote Irish Tourism| Get to Know Some of the Most Famous Irish Proverbs| The Famous Danny Boy Song| All About the Popular Irish Author: CS Lewis| Good Vibrations in Belfast: A Guide to Belfast for Music Fans|

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